Microsoft’s research arm is leading a new effort to study the use of computer games as tools to help middle-school students learn science and math.

The Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) aims to identify which qualities of computer games engage students and help develop relevant, personalized teaching strategies that can be applied to the learning process, its organizers said. The G4LI is a joint research endeavor by Microsoft Research, New York University (NYU), and a consortium of universities. Partners include Columbia University, the City University of New York (CUNY), Dartmouth College, Parsons, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Columbia Teachers College.

Speaking to NYU faculty and students, Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft Corp., announced this new multidisciplinary, multi-institutional gaming research alliance on Oct. 7.

"Technology has the potential to help reinvent the education process and excite and inspire young learners to embrace science, math, and technology," Mundie said. "The Games for Learning Institute at NYU is a great example of how technology can change how students learn, making it far more natural and intuitive."

Microsoft Research is providing $1.5 million to the institute. NYU and its consortium of partners are matching Microsoft’s investment, for a combined $3 million. Funding covers the first three years of research, which will focus on evaluating computer games as potential learning tools for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects during the middle-school years (grades 6–8). The institute will work with a range of student populations yet will focus on underrepresented middle-school students–especially girls and minorities.

"Middle school is a critical stage for students, a time when many are introduced to advanced math and science concepts," said Ken Perlin, professor of computer science at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and founding director of NYU’s Media Research Laboratory. Perlin will direct the G4LI, which will be located at NYU.

"Many students become discouraged or uninterested and pour their time at home into gaming," Perlin added. "Ironically, we think gaming is our starting point to draw them into math, science, and technology-based programs."

Video games, with their popularity and ability to engage young people, are showing promise as a way to excite and prepare the "net generation," according to a G4LI press release. This generation of students, though well-versed in using technology for social networking and internet research, is continuing a decline in proficiency and interest in math and sciences, G4LI says–the very skills needed to prepare them for the new demands and requirements of the 21st century.

"While educational games are commonplace, little is known about how, why, or even if they are effective," said John Nordlinger, senior research manager for Microsoft Research’s gaming efforts. "Microsoft Research, together with NYU and the consortium of academic partners, will address these questions from a multidisciplinary angle, exploring what makes certain games compelling and playable and what elements make them effective, providing critically important information to researchers, game developers, and educators to support a new era of using games for educational purposes."
 
Jan Plass, associate professor of educational communication and technology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, will co-direct the G4LI with Perlin.

The institute also will evaluate prototypes of new learning games, introducing them–along with accompanying curricula–to a network of 19 New York City area schools and then tracking the results.

Based on the findings of its initial research, the institute’s goal is to expand its research and game development to all K-12 grades. Resulting scientific evidence will be shared broadly with researchers, game developers, and educators, organizers said.

Links:

Microsoft Research

New York University

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